One of the worst habits I’ve gotten into throughout the two years I’ve been running this blog is abandoning drafts. Maybe I’m fighting with the words, or maybe I start second-guessing whether anyone would actually want to read what I’ve written. Several times I’ve simply forgotten to type a draft up in the first place. Whatever the reason, I end up struggling to find prompts I like that actually make it to the finish line. This post is the first in a series of 25 (!) that I hope will change that.
One of the many wonderful gifts I received for my birthday this year was a rather large book entitled The Ultimate Reading Challenge. Inside, instead of chapters, were envelopes inscribed with reading-themed challenges. Once a challenge has been completed, you can open the envelope to reveal a bookish prize. While not all of the challenges struck my fancy, I knew that this book could be exactly what I needed in order to get myself posting more regularly. The reward for completing a challenge isn’t simply the satisfaction of crossing it off a list- there are actual prizes at stake. Regardless of what they might be, I want prizes. I also want to share the books I choose for each challenge with all of you. Not all of the books I read will end up being ones I like, but I hope in writing about them I will learn to stand by my convictions, even if my opinions aren’t popular ones. Let’s start things off with challenge #1, “Read a Book Published This Year”!
Bluebird by Genevieve Graham:
Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster
Bluebird is an incredible historical fiction/romance novel which tells the story of Adele and Jerry, a nursing sister and a member of the 1st Canadian Tunneling Company who first meet at a field hospital during World War 1. Adele nurses Jerry back to health after he’s wounded in a cave-in, the two developing a connection beyond that of patient and caregiver as Jerry’s wounds heal. The unforgiving realities of the war Jerry must return to sow doubt in their minds that either will ever see the other again. By the time the pair are reunited, it’s in Windsor, Ontario, well after the war’s end. Alcohol flows freely there despite the restrictions of Prohibition; Jerry and his brother are among the dozens in Windsor striking it rich smuggling alcohol to eager American buyers across the river experiencing a Prohibition of their own. Though no longer caught up in a global war, Adele and Jerry’s new relationship is threatened by increasingly hostile exchanges between rival rum-running gangs and the anger of a man who wants to make them pay. Meanwhile in the 21st century, historian Cassie is astonished when a contractor discovers a hidden stash of alcohol dating back to Prohibition inside a false wall. Cassie must confront her inner demons to discover the reason the bottles were hidden in the first place.
I knew as soon as I read the title that this was going to be a great book. I’m a huge fan of Genevieve Graham- I love how her historical fiction is set against the backdrop of little-known events in Canadian history and centres around touching romances that make you feel all fuzzy inside. Her characters are people you feel you’ve known forever even though you’ve just met. (I’ve developed a real soft spot for Rudi in her book Come From Away, and Molly in Letters Across The Sea feels like an older sister.) Graham weaves hundreds of historical details into her novels that transport you into their worlds as if you were a time-traveler. I have nothing but praise for her!
The reason I became excited when I discovered the title of her latest book was because I immediately knew which historical period it was alluding to. During the First World War, Canada sent more than 2,800 nursing sisters overseas to tend to the wounded soldiers. Their distinctive blue uniforms and white caps soon earned them the nickname “Bluebirds”, hence the title of the book. I was intrigued to see how a romance would unfold between a nurse and a soldier on the Western Front. Then I got to the part of the book description about rum-running, and I knew that I had to place a hold on this book as soon as possible. While I understood little of Windsor’s role during Prohibition (or anything about Canadian Prohibition to begin with), I couldn’t wait to learn more. Would there be gangsters like Al Capone? Cops paid to look the other way as returned servicemen drank away the horrors they’d witnessed and committed? The answers were yes and yes! Adele’s post-war job as a nurse at the local clinic exposes her to a wide range of injuries which result from… interesting methods of concealing liquor on one’s person. Jerry’s brewing and smuggling operation periodically has deliveries intercepted by rival gangs, and threats of violence against them usually make true on their word. A gangster sub-plot was something new for me, but I ended up enjoying it far more than I expected. The danger keeps you on the edge of your seat! I also loved this story for its attention to detail, tender romance, and the importance it placed on the value of friends and family. As a history nerd, I got excited spotting passing references to historical events that I knew the full stories behind, such as Leslie Miller and the Vimy Oaks, the sinking of the Llandovery Castle, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. (All of which are very interesting events in their own right; you might see at least one covered in a separate blog post at some point!)
If you want to learn about Canadian Prohibition and the politics surrounding it, or the experiences of a nursing sister during and after World War 1, this is the book for you. If you’d like to read about a moving romance that focuses more on the relationship between the lovers than what they do in bed, this is the book for you. If you want a book that’ll capture your attention and stay with you long after the last page, this is the book for you! Bluebird has something for everyone, regardless of your interests.
Stay tuned for more Ultimate Reading Challenge posts!